The Torch of the Testimony (Book Review)

thetorchofthetestimonyThe Struggle for the Centrality of Christ—Book Review of “The Torch of the Testimony” by John W. Kennedy—Reviewed by David D. Flowers

John W. Kennedy has given us a great gift that has gone largely unnoticed in the western world. “The Torch of the Testimony” uncovers the 2,000-year history of those believing Christians and churches that stood outside the Protestant and Catholic traditions.

“The history of the working of the Spirit of God is not the history of any organization, and what usually goes by the name ‘Church History’ is only too often a sorry tale of bigoted quarrels and selfish intrigue. Yet the history of the two, the spiritual movement, and the earthly institution, are sometimes so closely intermingled that it is impossible to give an account of one without referring to the other.” p. 56

Kennedy gives us a concise narrative of church history while distinguishing between the “spiritual church” and the organized church of man.

He is gracious and honest to point out the good that was achieved within the organized church, but is consistent in his critique of both movements of the church.

He very powerfully exposes the shortcomings of the institutional church and how past saints concluded that it can never be reformed. What is needed is a return to New Testament church practice.

“The life of Christ and the Lordship of Christ through His Word are, therefore, two things which mark out the church of the New Testament. When these are supplanted by anything else, the result is a departure from the principle of Scripture and ultimate confusion.” p. 177

He wonderfully weaves together the disjointed stories of the church to paint a clear picture of the challenges that still face us today. The reader can’t help but be awakened to the reality that we are a part of the unfolding story of Christ’s church.

In this book, you will learn about how the the church began to drift from apostolic teachings through Greco-Roman influence and opened the door for the Constantinian State in the fourth century.

You will discover the enduring testimony of the remnant that existed apart from the organized church up to the Protestant Reformation and onward. You will learn how a break from the State Church into independent movements produced denominations built upon doctrines instead of the rock of Christ.

How did we get to where we are today? Where are we in the story of God’s people? Will we learn from the mistakes of the past? What will be written about us?

Will our relationship to Christ be the unifying bond that births our church practice or will we be distracted by power and cling to weapons of the world in an attempt to advance the Gospel?

I can’t stress enough how important this book is to the study of the development of Christianity. This book is a “must read” for every serious student of church history.

If you are involved in organic church life and gatherings outside of the institutional church, this book should be required reading before you can say, “I am part of a house church.”

If this account of church history doesn’t move you… I would recommend you check your spiritual pulse.

Suggested Reading:
The Untold Story of the New Testament Church: An Extraordinary Guide to Understanding the New Testament
Paul’s Idea of Community: The Early House Churches in Their Cultural Setting, Revised Edition
Pagan Christianity?: Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices
The Reformers and Their Stepchildren (Dissent and Nonconformity)


About David D. Flowers

David received a B.A. in Religion from East Texas Baptist University and a M.T.S. in Biblical Studies from Houston Graduate School of Theology. David has over 20 years experience as a pastor and teacher in and outside the church. He currently pastors an Anabaptist congregation in Pennsylvania. View all posts by David D. Flowers

16 responses to “The Torch of the Testimony (Book Review)

  • e4unity

    Liked your review, David. This is an old theme for sure. I have been a serious student of Church history for over 40 years now and it is fascinating, instructive, and with the Word of God ever in hand, even inspiring. Being a part of this on-going drama is both a great calling and challenge. How we come to turns with the reality of the institutional/organized structure the true Church has been found clothed in through the different times and places is always a mixed bag- the good produced by the Spirit of God and the evil produed by the carnal mind and hands of Adamic man.

    One of the best comments I ever read was by James Charles Ryle in his book on Holiness and a chapter devoted to “The True Church”. He likened all the structures and institutional parts of the building of Christ’ Church to ‘scaffolding’ and said when the Building is finished at the end of time, the scaffolding will all be taken down; it is not a part of the essence of the Church.

  • Keith K

    ‘scaffolding” ….. for sure, the problem is that people LOVE their scaffolding!

  • Mike Hutchison

    Excellent review David. I am working my way through this book for the second time and I also cannot recommend it enough.

  • jamesschay

    I loved your review. I was looking at this book the other day and was wondering about it a bit.

    I’ve read some other post on your blog and I just want to send out some encouragement for you to keep up the good work.

    My prayers are with you.

    James Schay

  • Mike Hutchison


    Did you find it interesting that Luther at one time seemed to be headed towards embracing a simple meeting around Christ in homes?

    What a myriad of pressures and challenges that attempt to turn us back from the simplicity and fullness that is in Christ.

    Keep up the good work and keep fighting the good fight.

    • David D. Flowers

      Hey Mike
      Yes, I did learn that about Luther. Isn’t that bizarre? He just couldn’t let go of the organized church and its authoritarianism.
      May the Lord keep us from those same temptations. Thanks, bro.

    • Paul Harlan

      Brother Mike H:

      Yes, he (ML) did consider having fellowship as did our brethren early on. However, he didn’t think “ordinary” brothers were up to the task, i.e., couldn’t handle the responsibility, so he turned away, back to the system, just slightly reworked.

      David did an excellent review, He obviously read the book, Torch of the Testimony. May more of us who believe read it.

  • gus

    i have experienced the “body life” J.K writes about – i have found that all the serious christians i meet long for this type of reality in their places of gathering.

  • TIM

    Orwell’s book animal farm can shed some light for those who desire so ardently to be “out of the system”.

    At the end of anaimal farm, those who wanted out of the system simply end up with their own version of it.

    beingout of the sytem seems to make men either a pharasee or a humbler man.

  • Michael Wilkes

    David, I just stumbled upon you review of The Torch of the Testimony. Kennedy put church history in focus for me. I had already read Leonard Verduin’s two works The Reformers And Their Stepchildren and Anatomy of a Hybrid. They had shown me how much the reformers were concerned with protecting their structures that they made serious errors and, I think, lost the moving of the Spirit. There is a real tension in most churches between protecting the organization/structure and seeking the leading of the Spirit. Thanks for your review.

  • Paul Harlan

    I especially liked David’s comment, in response to Tim’s reference to George Orwell’s “Animal farm.” “Agreed. If a person is simply pursuing another way to “do” church, then they will find disappointment. But if they seek Christ, they will find the Lord’s heart for his church.”

    Some years ago, some of us read John Kennedy’s, “Torch of the Testimony” in the original, printed-in-Bombay hard back(probably within the years 1962-65). It was a life changer then and still is. We were “breaking bread” (worshiping) together and finding that we could experience His life with out the trappings of the “organized church.” We still are doing that in fellowship with Him, but with nothing, nor no one about whom to boast except the Lord Jesus. Yes, we do have ministry from working men and some from a retired school teacher/author and from other men that come other similar fellowship. Next week, we will hear a word from a brother from an assembly that is 99.3% Chinese. We are supremely blessed!

  • ian vincent

    I live in India and i can’t buy books online, does anyone know if “The torch of the testimony” is available free online? Thanks.

  • joshuatilton

    Caspar Schwenckfeld was the true reformer during Luther’s day. Luther didn’t like him much, but his spiritual impact was profound.

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